Collaboration will help shape our shared future

Data tells us that last year was probably the best in humanity’s history. A smaller share of the global population was hungry, impoverished or illiterate than at any other time. Every day, the number of people living in extreme poverty falls by 217,000. And thanks to better access to clean water and sanitation, the number of children dying from diarrhoea has been cut by a third since 2005.

Statistics such as these should give us heart that the many efforts in which we are engaged at Unilever are making a positive difference.

It is within this context that leaders from government, business and civil society come together at the World Economic Forum in Davos. It is a critical moment in time for us to continue to find ways to collaborate, to help shape our shared future. With the 2018 theme of 'Strengthening Cooperation in a Fractured World', it is a great platform for us to advance our advocacy and partnership objectives.

As our CEO, Paul Polman explains: “For Unilever, this high-level collaboration is key. While our efforts to embed purpose in all we do have positioned us well as a leader in sustainability, to achieve our biggest ambitions – such as climate action and social inclusion – we must work with others to bring about transformational change. Davos is about defining new economic and business models, within which responsible organisations like ours can thrive and prosper.”

We see that technology could help define and complement the ‘human’ in all of us.

Leena Nair

Who will do the work: robots or humans?

Leena Nair, Chief HR Officer

So advanced has technology become, it’s easy to think we’re being overtaken by innovation. Yet to hide in fear of a jobless apocalypse is to focus only on one side of a complex argument. Flip this on its head, and we see that technology could help define and complement the ‘human’ in all of us.

But to do so, we must ask ourselves: What does it really mean to be human? What do we need to thrive in this changing world? And how can we use technology to amplify – not overtake – our uniquely human traits?

When people are experiencing change, they feel uncertain, fearful – as if they’re in the midst of a storm. Finding their purpose will give them the anchor they need, not only to survive the storm – but also to thrive in it. In Unilever, we’ve committed to helping every single one of our employees find their purpose as part of the programme covering 4Ps: Purpose, Performance, Potential and a Personalised plan. We know that companies with purpose last, brands with purpose grow, and people with purpose thrive.

How often do we hear that the half-life of a skill today is two and a half years? That today’s primary school children will do a job that doesn’t yet exist? And that our jobs will soon be stolen by robots? But people are inherently wired to learn. So by investing in lifelong learning, businesses can re-skill everyone and prepare them for the future.

We get our people to explore their own curiosity by allowing them to personalise their learning process. Have a coffee with a colleague, take a course, have some coaching, join an online programme… and we’ve invested in a system that curates and personalises learning content for everyone. Here technology is an important enabler, augmenting our natural curiosity.

The final piece when we talk about being more human is our need to feel understood and valued as individuals. In a digital world, a one-size-fits-all approach would no more work for different brands than it would attract different customers. Technology can be used to put people in the driving seat, giving them more choice over how and where they work – and how they’re rewarded for it. It can even eliminate unconscious bias during our recruitment process, making for a more diverse, personalised and fairer world in which we can all thrive.

Sustainability is now firmly at the heart of any future-fit manufacturing operation.

Marc Engel

What will drive changes in production?

Marc Engel, Chief Supply Chain Officer

We are at the threshold of a new industrial revolution, characterised by technological breakthroughs. These are transforming manufacturing and production systems with unprecedented speed and scope. So we need new capabilities and new ways of working; we must build truly innovative operations while at the same time take a responsible approach to automation. For example, we have started working with smart glasses in some of our factories [see main image above]. Maintenance experts use them to monitor any problems and share information with relevant colleagues in real time, enabling us to fix issues much faster than before.

Also, consumer expectations are changing. In the past, retail strategy was driven by companies: their market research dictated the products they released and how they released them. Today, the digitally enabled consumer can be at the forefront of how products are developed and delivered. The personalisation and customisation of products are playing an increasingly central role. Marmite, Baby Dove and Vaseline have embraced this trend and we are now offering consumers the possibility to buy personalised products with their names printed on them. Really exciting, but this also means we are rethinking the concept of mass production completely.

Plus, of course, sustainability is now firmly at the heart of any future-fit manufacturing operation. The ability to create goods and services using processes and systems that are non-polluting, conserve energy, come from natural resources and make positive contributions to society is essential.

Unilever has been at the forefront of driving the sustainable sourcing agenda and we continue to try new initiatives and approaches that move the needle. In the area of palm oil, for example, we have launched a number of programmes to help smallholder farmers increase yields so that they are able to improve their livelihoods while adopting sustainable business and agricultural practices.

Today’s tech-augmented consumers are increasingly in control of how they shop for brands

Keith Weed

How must we respond as consumption habits change?

Keith Weed, Chief Marketing & Communications Officer

Today’s hyper-empowered, tech-augmented consumers are increasingly in control of the branded messages they receive and how they shop for brands. As micro-moment behaviour – where people instinctively turn to their device to act upon a need – becomes the norm, consumers’ expectations of value, convenience and immediacy of response from brands are becoming increasingly demanding.

For brands to be allowed a part in the hyper-empowered consumer’s life, they must be able to both anticipate and assist with their needs. This means being relevant, tailored and personal – a huge shift from when brands (especially those from businesses like Unilever) tended to be built for the masses. At Unilever we have an ambition to have a billion one-to-one relationships – I don’t believe that a focus on the individual has to mean ‘niche’.

What’s more, consumers increasingly don’t just want a product to buy, they want an idea to buy into. Millennials and Gen Z in particular want brands rooted in purpose and doing good for the world. In 2016, more than 60% of our growth came from our Sustainable Living Brands, and they grew 50% faster than the rest of the business. Undeniable proof that brands with a powerful purpose are connecting with consumers like never before.

Mobile is rewriting communication and commerce, changing the relationship between brands and people forever. And with half of the world still waiting to join the online world, we are only at the foothills of what’s possible. The brands that lead this, providing consumers with a frictionless experience online and off, are the brands that will win in the future.

Back to top

Connect with us

We're always looking to connect with those who share an interest in a sustainable future.

Contact us

Get in touch with Unilever and specialist teams in our headquarters, or find contacts around the world.

Contact us